From the first notes of the catchy, joyful theme, people recognize the classic show Sesame Street. Through the years, it has captivated and educated kids of all ages. With the new film Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, documentary filmmaker Marilyn Agrelo takes viewers through the development and success of the classic tv show, focusing on lots of aspects of of the show, including creators Jon Stone, Joan Cooney, and Jim Henson. It seems crazy to most people that at one time there wasn’t educational, entertaining tv directed at kids. They created something that had never been done before. They studied kids to see what kept their attention and taught and what led to distraction and boredom, and carved a show that stayed focused on learning in a fun, entertaining way.
There was a disparity between white children and children of color in education in the US, so Lloyd Morrissett asked Joan Cooney if tv could be used to educate. Lloyd hired Joan to do a feasibility study. She and her team discovered children were watching television for half their waking hours. She figured if they were watching that much, people could figure out what they’d watch and create educational content for them. With Morrisett, she co-created the Children’s Television Workshop and became one of the most powerful women in television.
The Muppets started out in late night television and in commercials in the late 50s. Children’s entertainment wasn’t what he had in mind. “Most of our work was sophisticated and had a black comedic quality and our audience was college age.” The target was inner city children, and even more specifically, Black kids. Jon Stone saw a commercial for the urban coalition shot on location on the streets of Harlem. He wanted to capture that energy of the street for kids cooped up in apartments. He created a realistic set that looked like a real street with the front steps of apartment housing. They called it Sesame Street, as in “open sesame”, because it would be somewhere magic happened. It did bring magic to everyday life, with Big Bird walking in a New York neighborhood and interacting with all kinds of people.
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